Alex Kidd in Miracle World – Developer Interview

Alex Kidd in Miracle World – 2002 Developer Interview

This brief but fun interview with Kotaro “Osshale” Hayashida covers the creation of Alex Kidd and the early atmosphere of Sega console development. The interview was originally featured in the meisaku interview series. There's also a humorous Game Center CX-ish text narration of Hayashida playing Alex Kidd after all these years, and being confused multiple times by the “Mario-backwards” controls.

—Ossale, what was your motivation for joining Sega?

Ossale: I knew about Sega having seen their logo on the side of arcade cabinets in my junior high days, but the reason I applied was simply that I wanted to try creating games.

When I read a job ad in a magazine and saw that Sega was recruiting, the very next day I took an express train from Kyushu, then took the Shinkansen to Sega’s offices. However, the map showing Sega’s building was actually really complicated and I got lost, accidentally ending up at Sega Factory #2 instead.

Someone from Sega gave me a ride to the main headquarters, and so I managed to take the test and interview. And amazingly, they gave me an informal job offer that same day. It’s the kind of thing you could never imagine happening today, but that’s what the game industry was like back then. Actually, I had an interview scheduled with Namco as well, but since I received this offer I decided to join Sega.

—What was the first game you made after joining Sega?

Ossale: I joined in 1983, right when Sega started developing console games. There were about 10 of us, and we were attached to the development section of the Computer division at Sega. It was there that I started making SG-1000 games. The first I made was Hussle Chumy, I think.

Actually, we had also started developing an arcade title. We even did a location test for it, but it ended up getting shelved. It was called “Chain Pit.” Now that I think back on it, it seems crazy that these brand new hires would plan and release a game right away. (laughs)

—Yeah, maybe it was. (laughs) By the way, was “Chain Pit” related in any way to the “Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot” game you made later?

Ossale: That’s right–you know a lot, don’t you! I’ve never officially disclosed this, but Pit Pot was a sequel to Chain Pot… but this is really trivial, so let’s just leave it at that. (laughs)

—Got it. And after that, what other games did you make?

Ossale: After Hussle Chumy I made Pitfall II, Seishun Scandal, Ninja Princess… in 3 years I made about 10 games. That led to Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which started in 1986.

Ossale: “I made Hustle Chumy with Masamitsu Niitani from Compile, and it was my first commercial release.”

—Please tell us the story of how the idea for Alex Kidd came about.

Ossale: Well, it started about one year after Sega had split its development sections into two, arcade and console. Super Mario Bros. was already a big hit by then, and the Famicom was building a rock-solid foundation as a game console. Sega had just put out the new Sega Mark III, and they tasked us in the Second Development unit to create something that would sell as well as Mario. And so we set out to develop a new action game.

—Which was Alex Kidd?

Ossale: Yes.

—In the beginning, was the game design any different?

Ossale: Yeah. The early title was “Miracle Land”, and our initial plans were for an adventure game with action elements. It was something close to what we call “action rpgs” today.

—Was the action still based around Alex’s jumping and punching?

Ossale: No, originally he used a nyoibo as a weapon, but then we made him a disciple of Kenpou, and he became more of an original character, and so the punch became his main weapon. There were many changes like that, and the design went through several revisions.

Early concept art for Alex Kidd, from Ossale’s college notebook.

It was one of the things we thought up to try and distinguish our game from Super Mario Bros, which had been such a hit.

—What other things did you do to distinguish Alex Kidd from Super Mario Bros.?

Ossale: For example, Mario punches upwards when he jumps, so Alex will punch sideways. Stuff like that. (laughs) Also, we also reversed the jump and attack buttons from Mario. At the time we thought we were doing something “different”… but we were mistaken. Now when I look back on it, it’s just nonsense. And it’s harder to play that way. (laughs)

—The setting, world, and characters are all very detailed in Alex Kidd. What kind of image did you have in mind?

Ossale: The story of Alex Kidd actually takes place in the midst of an interplanetary war. Like Star Wars, if you wanted to compare it to a movie. The planet that Alex Kidd takes place on, Aries, is a peaceful place resembling Earth. My image for it was the huge city of Badakshan in Afghanistan in the time of Marco Polo’s journeys.

—And yet, Alex’s favorite food is onigiri…

Ossale: Yeah, onigiri is a Japanese food from our Earth, but there’s an island on Aries with the same kind of eating habits. (laughs) I can’t say for sure when Alex developed a liking for onigiri, but Alex’s father King Thunder is has a passion for learning about other cultures, so he probably introduced it to Alex.

—By the way, why did you make the boss fights “rock paper scissor” battles?

Ossale: That was also one of our concepts to differentiate our game from Mario. It was a very fanciful, absurd idea. There were various reactions, like “What the hell! Isn’t this supposed to be an action game?!” or “I lost the rock-paper-scissors match and it's Game over!? This sucks.” Definitely, for people who are good at action games, to lose everything and Game Over because of a rock paper scissors match… yeah, that sucks. (laughs)

The staff at Sega shared these concerns, but I wanted to know how players would react to it, so I left it in. (laughs)

—Was there ever any talk about having Alex Kidd be the official corporate mascot for Sega?

Ossale: At that time Sega didn’t really have any official framework in place for the promotion of such a character, and we weren’t lucky enough to have Alex Kidd get that big naturally.

Alex Kidd enjoys some onigiri.

Interlude: 15 years later, Osshale plays Alex Kidd

1st Game

– There’s no time limit?
– This is hard!
– The buttons are backwards! (laughs)
– Huh, now what did this ring do?
– Ahh, this is hard.

SCORE: 400pts

2nd Game

– Looks like I’ve got to take this guy out.
– Ahh, my hand can’t get used to these buttons!
– (while swimming) I like how the music changes here.
– What! Are you serious?!
– If you go from the bottom you’ll be ok.

SCORE: 1200pts.

3rd Game

– What’s going on, what’s going on…
– Ahh!
– Yeah, these controls feel totally reversed. (laughs)
– Huh, wasn’t there supposed to be a giant onigiri there?
– Ah, I beat the first stage!
– With this Sukopako Motorcycle, things should be easy.
– Ahh, well it was easier back then…
– The rock-paper-scissors isn’t random, there’s a pattern.
– I think you’ll always win if you play scissors first. What the?
– Next should be paper. Wh, what?!
– This is harsh.
– Ah, ouch!

SCORE: 6200pts.

4th Game

– Ugh, this is brutal.
– Was it rock, paper, scissors? Or was it rock, scissors, paper? Hmm..
– I really hate these damn jaw fish.
– ……. (silently and furiously tapping while fighting the jaw fish)
– Ah, its dangerous in here too.
– No way!

SCORE: 22200pts.

—So, how did it feel, playing this in 2002?

Ossale: It’s a really charming game, if I do say so myself. You want to see what’s around the next corner. But I wish I had made it more friendly… I could have at least let players see their score at all times. (laughs)

Even today I really like the idea of the “Puchi Copter” vehicle. That’s why whenever I design a game I always try to add a variety of vehicles. I actually did add several different vehicles to Phantasy Star, which I made later.

—If you were to remake Alex Kidd today, what would it be like?

Ossale: If I remade it, it would probably be an entirely different game. I think it would be cool to do a realistic Alex Kidd. Kane Kosugi can play the starring role. (laughs) I’d make it a first person action-adventure game, using motion capture to give Alex Kidd realistic facial expressions.

It would have a feel like the movie Shaolin Soccer, where you’re just mowing down wave after wave of enemies. Huge Octopi with tentacles flailing would come at you, “UWAA!” It could have a really cool setting like that, with players wondering “why am I fighting all these giant frogs?”

Give me two years, a budget of 500 million yen, and I’ll aim for 500,000 copies sold on the PS2. How’s that sound? (laughs)

Ossale: “The Octopus was supposed to have at least 8 arms, but due to an issue with the sprites it was impossible”

Postscript: Ossale Kohta’s Favorite Games

“When I was looking for a job, it was 1982, and the Space Invaders boom had by then quieted down. Game centers were now a regular, normal feature of every town. The visuals for games had also come a long way. Some of my favorite games were Namco’s Dig Dug and Sega’s Zaxxon, Pengo, and Monster Bash.”

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